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What's the big deal?
The Good Dinosaur is a CG-animated family film released in 2015 and is the sixteenth feature-length film produced by Pixar Studios. The film is set in an alternate timeline that never saw the extinction of the dinosaurs and follows a young Apatosaurus called Arlo attempt to return to his family's farm with the help of a feral human child. Directed by debutant Peter Sohn, the film stars Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin and Steve Zahn. The film is based on a concept by Bob Peterson and work began on the film as early as 2009. However, creative revisions and changes in personnel put the film's release back from its original scheduled release of November 2013. Despite a warm reception from critics, the film has the distinction of being Pixar's first box-office bomb with global earnings of $332 million - far below the film's production and advertising costs. It was Pixar's second release of that year following the critically acclaimed Inside Out.
What's it about?
Roughly 65 million years ago, the asteroid that struck the Earth wiped out most life forms on the planet at the time (including dinosaurs) instead just misses and flies past harmlessly. Millions of years later, dinosaurs continue to roam the Earth although they have adapted to be able to farm livestock as well as crops such as the corn farmed by Apatosaurus couple Henry and Ida. Together with their children - boisterous Buck, kind-hearted Libby and timid Arlo - they find themselves struggling to deal with a sneaky critter stealing some of their precious harvest.
After failing to catch the critter (who turns out to be a feral human child), Henry attempts to pursue him with the help of Arlo who Henry hopes will finally find his courage. But disaster strikes and Arlo is swept away from his family by a flash flood. Dazed and miles from home, Arlo begins the perilous journey back with the help of some unlikely allies including the human child who Arlo names Spot. But can the pair of them overcome their differences as well as the brutal reality of Mother Nature or will Arlo's cowardice get the better of him once more?
Release Date (UK)
27th November, 2015
Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama
What's to like?
This may seem like an unlikely statement to make about a two-star film such as this but The Good Dinosaur may well be the best animated film I have ever seen. Among the sweeping landscapes, we see huge flocks of birds take flight simultaneously amid realistic-looking clouds as well as mighty flowing rivers and huge forests. From a backdrop point of view, this film absolutely blows you away with how pretty it is - at times, it almost looks photo-realistic. The only other film I can think of that comes close in terms of realism is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a film so far ahead of its time that it also failed to find much of an audience at the time.
It must have been a no-brainer for Pixar to produce a film around dinosaurs given how enormously popular they are. My godson Finley, who is three and a bit at the time of writing, is obsessed with them and he enjoys the film immensely. For kids into dinosaurs, this is probably the best film for them - the narrative isn't complicated but easy to understand, there is little for parents to worry about in terms of corrupting their fragile offspring with sexual or violent scenes and the film teases us with the tantalising prospect of what might have happened if dinosaurs had survived. Personally, I'd have taken the idea further and imagined them living amongst human society in a strange, Zootopia-style arrangement but it's easy to picture the possibilities.
- The film suffered from multiple issues during production including a change of director, almost the entire cast being replaced, a number of lay-offs at Pixar themselves and even a complete change of script.
- The film does contain the obligatory appearance by Pixar veteran John Ratzenberger although it is his smallest appearance in a Pixar film to date. He plays Earl, one of the Velociraptors in the movie and only has one line: "We kill 'em!"
- The film includes the first hallucination scene in a Disney film since Dumbo in 1941. It occurs after fermented peaches are eaten by the main characters.
What's not to like?
However, as impressive as the visuals are, the film is just as great a disappointment which wastes much of its potential. My first issue is with the character animation which completely lacks any sort of realism seen in the backgrounds of the film. Arlo, his family and Spot all look like cartoon characters instead of trying to look authentic and they sit uneasily amid the realistic-looking vistas they find themselves in. The film is also hampered by not having Spot speak so when we follow Arlo and Spot on their journey, there is little dialogue between them and they lack some much needed chemistry. It also hampers the overall narrative which lacks any sense of urgency or impetus. Despite the short running time, The Good Dinosaur feels like a slog through primordial soup.
I was also let down by the film's disappointing use of its premise. Given the endless possibilities afforded by the film's set-up, we instead follow a lonely group of dinosaurs curiously farming crops - it just felt a little underwhelming in my opinion. The film has arguably the oddest scenario ever seen in a Pixar film (which is some going considering we've seen environmentally-minded robots, five emotional avatars at the controls of a young girl and a rat becoming a star chef in Paris) and it's one I simply couldn't get on board with. Worst of all, it felt half-hearted. Every Pixar movie up till now has felt loved and cherished by those who worked on it but there seems to be a sense of simply finishing the film and releasing it without testing it via the usual Pixar quality control. It didn't feel entertaining or amazing in the way that Pixar films often are which is a real shame. To me, it felt like a technical showcase - a way of Pixar demonstrating their animation credentials and cutting-edge tech over their increasingly bold rivals.
Should I watch it?
The Good Dinosaur lacks much of what makes a classic Pixar film so enjoyable - it's only really suitable for young viewers (especially if they are into dinosaurs) instead of the whole family and it squanders its concept into a fairly humdrum journey back home while discovering your inner self. As a CG-animated movie, it's fine but by Pixar's own stratospheric standards, I'm afraid that the film is a long way off. Annoying, it could have been so much better but as it is, this feels about as inert as a fossil.
Great For: young viewers, dinosaur aficionados, Pixar's background artists and animators, my godson Finley
Not So Great For: long-time Pixar fans, adults, Pixar's previously unshakable reputation
What else should I watch?
Pixar's history as the pioneers of feature-length CG animation is as glorious as that of their colleagues over at the House of Mouse, Disney. From the ground-breaking Toy Story to the imaginative Monsters Inc, the hugely entertaining The Incredibles and one of my favourite films of all time WALL·E, the studio have developed an ironcast reputation in Hollywood as one of the finest film production companies of our time. As other companies have risen to challenge them, they still continue to produce films of a high quality with recent successes like Inside Out and the billion-dollar revival of Toy Story 4.
The only company to really challenge Pixar & Disney's dominance of the animated market are Illumination Studios, thanks to the huge financial success of their Despicable Me series. The popular spin-off Minions and the recent Despicable Me 3 both took more than a billion dollars as well, although I can't honestly recommend Minions unless you're under the age of, say, six. Other companies also have their popular franchises - DreamWorks have the increasingly aged Shrek series and Blue Sky Studios have been producing endless sequels to Ice Age seemingly forever. But personally, I'd rather watch almost any of Pixar's output.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox